Serving Those Who Served Our Country
Whether it’s visiting a veteran patient who’s reluctant to speak to anyone or figuring out new ways to connect with county Veterans Affairs (VA) offices, there’s one question that usually serves Danny Pierce well: “Can I try?”
As Veterans Liaison, Pierce is responsible for building and nurturing relationships between Agape Care and the veteran communities in South Carolina and Georgia. Some of those men and women may already be Agape Care patients; others might be, at least initially, unwilling to hear anything about hospice care. They might not want to admit they’re in pain or that they need treatment, a mindset that can date back to their days in the service where showing any perceived weakness was frowned upon. “It can feel like an unwritten rule, and that can stay in a veteran’s mind for years,” Pierce says. “So, a lot of veterans, they don’t like the word hospice.”
But in every case, Pierce, who served in the Army Reserve National Guard for four years (1971–75) is willing to listen, learn, and establish trust. Having served in the military, he has an understanding of what military members have gone through and insight into what they may — or may not — want to talk about. Pierce also spent 30 years in pastoral ministry before entering the hospice industry, where he served as a chaplain with Agape Care before retiring from those duties and taking on his current role part-time. His experiences have given him the ability to connect with patients and families from all walks of life and help them find peace and comfort.
Pierce’s role is part of Agape Care’s commitment to providing hospice and palliative care tailored to veterans, who often face unique health issues related to their years of service. It’s a focus that’s especially important now — veterans account for as many as one in four deaths in the U.S., and there is an increasing number of Vietnam and Korean War veterans who need hospice care.
To ensure that veterans receive the physical, emotional, and spiritual support they need, Agape Care is a member of We Honor Veterans, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Last fall, Agape Care reached Partner Level 4, a recognition given to organizations that demonstrate a high level of commitment to veteran-centric care in the community.
And when it comes to reaching the community, Pierce plays a large role. It can often be difficult to find veterans who may need support, but Agape Care has found success in South Carolina by partnering with county VA offices and partnering with the South Carolina Association of County Veteran Affairs Officers. Each of the state’s 46 counties has its own office, and Pierce has made it a goal to build relationships with each one. “If you’re going to reach out, first of all, you have to know who to reach out to,” he says. “And these people know more about the veterans in their county than anyone.”
By connecting with county VA offices, he can share more about Agape Care, and when veterans need assistance or resources, they can be directed to Pierce.
For veterans in assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and Agape Care’s hospice houses, Pierce and Agape Care will hold pinning ceremonies, where someone — typically a veteran themselves — places a flag pin on the veteran patient. “Everything is about ceremony in the military, and we want to recognize who they are,” he says. “We’ve seen veterans with dementia who might not have known where they were, but when I asked if they ever served in the military, they said yes.”
For Memorial Day, Pierce has a veteran recognition ceremony planned for a facility in Hilton Head, South Carolina. “We’ll go and have a brief moment of silence,” he says. “We’ll talk about those who have passed because it’s Memorial Day, and then we’ll recognize the veterans who are there.”
Through the pinning and recognition ceremonies, and in everything Agape Care does, whether it’s building a military history checklist into the admission process or completing veteran-specific education with the social work team, the goal is to serve, honor, and care for our veterans. It’s all about showing compassion, building relationships, and finding a way to reach our nation’s heroes.